The Roman Republic & Julius Caesar

Ciao! I hope you did enjoy the first posts. In the second part it’s Rome vs. All: Rome vs. Etruscans, Rome vs. Samnites, Rome vs. Gauls, Rome vs. Carthage, and Rome vs. Rome. This was also the time of the complete power of the Roman Empire & Julius Caesar

Now, let’s focus on the most critical episodes!

  1. Hannibal
  2. The Punic Wars
  3. The Roman Republic
  4. Spartacus
  5. Julius Caesar
  6. Caesar’s Palace in Rome
  7. Octavian Augustus, the First Emperor
  8. The Emperors After Augustus

War, since the beginning, was the main business of the State. They expanded outward from their city, conquering and assimilating the Italian peninsula.

On the south, they took “Magna Graecia” and on the north, the Etruscans. 

By 265 BCE, Rome ruled a united Italy (from Tuscany to Sicily).

Next, they conquered the less-organized (but more cultured) Greek civilization that had dominated the Mediterranean Sea for centuries.

With a thriving economy and an army of 500.000 soldiers, the next enemy was Carthage.

Who was Hannibal and what was his greatest accomplishment?

The Phoenicians came from the eastern Mediterranean (modern-day Palestine & Israel).

They set up a trading empire that spread right as far north as the English Channel.

One of their trading outposts grew into a powerful trading city, with an army and Empire: Carthage!

Between 264 and 146 BCE, Rome fought three so-called Punic Wars with Carthage. 

Punic Wars, from Latin word Poenica for Carthage.

Why the Punic Wars started?

The Island of Sicily became the casus belli.

The Carthaginians were good fighters at sea with their great ships.

But the Roman Republic preferred fighting on land.

But they managed to copy and improve their rivals ships’ and win: Round One to the Romans.

Did Hannibal really use elephants?

In the second Punic War (218-201 BCE), Hannibal, a brilliant young commander, launched a surprise attack on Rome.

Instead of taking the obvious route across the Mediterranean, he crossed from North Africa into Spain.

With an army of 50.000 men and 50 elephants, he marched 2.000 km (1.200 miles) overland.

Hannibal crossed the Alps and penetrated Italy from the rear: from where the Romans weren’t expecting any trouble.

For almost 15 years, he was the torment of the Italian peninsula.

One of the most extraordinary tactical feats in military history and one of the worst defeats in Roman history happened on 2 August 216 BCE near the ancient village of Cannae in Apulia.

The Carthaginians, led by Hannibal, surrounded, and practically annihilated a larger Roman army.

Of the Roman infantry, 70.000 were killed and 10.000 captured.

The Roman Republic could only force Hannibal to go home by attacking Carthage itself.

He rushed back to his hometown, but the Roman general, Scipio, defeated him and forced Carthage to surrender. Rome 2, Carthage 0.

Who won the Punic Wars and why?

In the third Punic War (149-146 BCE), the Romans burned and sacked Carthage.

According to the official Roman Republic’s version of the events: no stone stood on another.

The people were driven out and sold as slaves, and the Romans even sowed salt into the fields so that the crops wouldn’t grow back.

Did the Romans Salt the Earth of Carthage After They Destroyed It?

This is something that We all know, but it’s a real story? I think no, for different reasons:

Salt was an expensive commodity, and the pragmatic Romans would not have been so wasteful with it. 

Rome became increasingly dependent on foreign sources of grain and was not likely to ruin good farmland that might be used to feed their hungry citizens. 

The Roman Republic was contemplating colonizing Carthage and found a colony there. It failed for various reasons, but the attempt would not have been made if the earth surrounding Carthage had been salted.

About a century later, Emperor Augustus actually did refound Carthage as a Roman city.

It lasted until 698, when it was destroyed by the Muslims.

How was the Roman Republic organized?

The Roman Republic was firmly in place within 200 years.

The people chose officials as their representatives to run the State and make decisions.

These officials were called magistrates.

They were advised by a small number of aristocrats (from influential and wealthy families) who made up the Senate.

A senator’s job was for life! 

The Senate controlled state spending, Rome’s rule of its Empire, and advised the magistrates.

The Senate was led by two chief magistrates, or “consuls.”

These consuls served for just one year to prevent them from becoming too powerful.

The members of the Senate weren’t directly elected by the people.

They were chosen by essential Romans.

Their role was to discuss the political issues of the State and give out written decrees.

Or official bits of advice for the magistrates and consuls to follow when waging wars or spending public money.

The Senate was often a wild place, full of speeches interrupted by shouts, boos, and arguments about how money was to be spent.

We can say that Romans conquered not only because they were good soldiers but also because of their business skills.

People dominated by Rome knew they had joined the winning team and that political stability would replace barbarian invasions. 

How was the infrastructure during the Roman Republic?

Anywhere they settled, the Romans built an infrastructure of roads, schools (teaching in Latin), police stations, and water supply systems. 

Now it was possible to have a standard language and currency.

Roman merchants traded their wine, salt, and olive oil for foreign goods.

Rome invested heavily in cities that were strategic for trade.

Anywhere they went, the Romans impressed with massive engineering projects: stadiums, temples, palaces, aqueducts, or fortified walls.

Why is Spartacus important?

Rome was the ruler of Europe and the Mediterranean.

We know the most significant business was the war: it ensured spoils of war and slaves. 

Based on small farms and trading, the original economy had been transformed into an economy of military conquest.

The wealthy patricians quarreled with the plebes (working-class) and the growing population of slaves, who demanded more respect.

In 73 BCE, a slave named Spartacus (a freeborn who’d been forced to fight as a gladiator) escaped and started a rebellion.

He fled to Mount Vesuvius, he gathered an army of 70.000 angry slaves.

For two years, they ravaged the countryside and rebelled against Rome before the Senate crushed the revolt. 

The stakes were very high: Crassus and Pompey, the generals who finally defeated the rebellion, became consuls.

Crassus, was the richest man in Rome.
He may have had the most wealth, but his greed for military glory destroyed him in the last days of the Roman Republic.

Spartacus was killed in battle, and 6.000 of his rebels were rounded up and crucified, hanging from crosses lining a 100-mile stretch of the Appian Way as a warning.

But they passed into legend. Years later, Spartacus remained a famous symbol of freedom against oppression.

The German communists after the First World War called themselves Spartakists in his honor.

One of the soldiers who helped suppress the revolt was a young fighter named Julius Caesar.

What Role did Julius Caesar Play in Rome?

In the middle of the chaos of civil war and class warfare, charismatic generals who could provide wealth and security, became dictators.

Men such as Crassus, Pompey.

And Caesar!

Julius Caesar (100-44 BCE) gained celebrity in 58-50 BCE by marching northward through France (known as Gaul), Germany, Belgium, and Holland.

He erected a temple to Jupiter on the future site of Paris’ Notre-Dame Cathedral.

He even crossed the English Channel and landed the legions in Britain, at the time considered by the Romans to be past the edge of the “known” world. 

Caesar was also a cunning politician, a magnetic speaker, and the Queen of Egypt’s lover: Cleopatra.

He had enormous popular support and the backing of his troops.

Apparently, he praised the Republic, but in fact, he ruled as a virtual dictator. 

In his four-year reign, through many reforms, he centralized the government around a single ruler. Guess who? Himself!

He even named a month after himself. Guess what?! July!

Jokes aside, Caesar misjudged those who supported the old Republic, and they feared that he would make himself a king. 

The ides of March

On the Ides of March (15 March 44 BCE), at the peak of his power, a group of assassins surrounded Caesar during a Senate meeting.

They stepped up to take turns stabbing him while the senators sat in silence and watched.

One of the killers was his adopted son, Brutus.

An astonished Caesar died, saying, “Et Tu, Brute?” (You too, Brutus?)

In modern popular culture, the phrase “Et Tu, Brute?” has become widespread due to its use in the William Shakespeare play Julius Caesar.

Still, these are assuredly not accurate words.

There is no evidence that Caesar spoke these words. The historical Caesar’s last words are not known with certainty.

The Roman historian Suetonius, a century and a half after the incident, claims Caesar said nothing as he died!

how to visit caesar palace in rome
How to visit Caesar’s Palace in Rome

Where is the Caesar’s Palace in Rome

You can have exclusive access to the Caesar’s Palace on the Palatine Hill, the home of Emperor Augustus Caesar (nephew of Julius Caesar) and his wife, Empress Livia, from the 1st century BC!

Previously The Palace only opened for archaeologists and historians. Special tour groups are allowed inside to view these amazing rooms.

Book a tour right now. You can send me an email!

What happened between Mark Antony and Octavian Augustus?

Julius Caesar died, but the concept of one-man rule lived on his adopted son (and also grand-nephew) Octavian. 

Caesar’s assassination might have been the moment when the Roman Empire collapsed.

Mostly when Octavian and Mark Antony, Caesar’s fellow consul and close supporter, fell out, and there was a renewed civil war.

At the Battle of Actium, in 31 BCE, Octavian triumphed over the combined forces of Mark Antony and the Egyptian queen Cleopatra.

The victory brought Egypt (and imagine how much of its immense wealth) into the Empire.

What happened at the battle of Actium?

The assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BCE unleashed a violent struggle between the Republican partisans of his killers, Brutus and Cassius, and the defenders of Caesar’s legacy, notably Octavian (his adopted son) and Mark Antony.

Relations between Antony and Octavian deteriorated.

Antony had promised his mistress Cleopatra VII of Egypt the cession of several Roman provinces.

This led to a final rupture with the Roman Senate, which declared war on Antony and Cleopatra in 33 BCE.

Octavian gathered an army and sailed for Greece to gain control over Antony. By September 31 BCE, he and his deputy Agrippa had seized key garrisons loyal to Antony.

They positioned themselves with a fleet of 230 ships north of the Gulf of Ambracia, where Antony’s smaller fleet of 170 vessels was moored.

Antony resolved to break out to save what he could and, on September 2, sailed out to open water.

His vessels engaged Octavian’s squadrons, allowing Cleopatra to get away with their treasure.

Antony then broke off with a small flotilla, leaving the rest of his navy to fight an increasingly desperate struggle.

Surrounded by Octavian’s marines, Antony’s heavy
ships were rammed, boarded, or set alight.

His land force rapidly surrendered. By the summer of 30 BCE, when Octavian arrived in Egypt, Antony had virtually no troops left.

Faced with inevitable defeat, he and Cleopatra committed suicide, leaving Octavian the unchallenged master of Rome.

What did Augustus do for Rome?

Octavian killed Brutus, eliminated his rivals, united Rome’s warring factions, and took Augustus’s title, which means “great, powerful, revered.”

More critical were Augustus titles, which in Latin were imperator and princeps: 

Imperator simply means a military commander, but it began to say something much closer to “emperor” under Augustus.

Princeps originally meant “the first citizen,” in the sense of first among equals. But now, it came to mean something very close to the English word that derives from it: prince.

He established a dynasty to lead Rome, ensuring the family name “Caesar” became a title that would resonate throughout history: Caesar, Kaiser, Czar.

Augustus was the first of the emperors who would control Rome for the next 500 years. The emperors would rule like kings, with the backing of the army.

Now the Roman Republic became an Empire. Caesar bridged the gap between Republic and Empire. Rome now was a collection of many diverse territories ruled by a single man.

To make his status absolutely clear, Augustus started to wear a toga made of the most expensive color there was: purple. Augustus.

What kind of ruler was Augustus?

Augustus was utterly ruthless. When he decided he wanted to marry Livia, he didn’t worry that they were both married. So he divorced his wife. According to some accounts, he did it the day she gave birth to their daughter, Julia. And told Livia to divorce her husband and marry him. Despite this start, the marriage was actually very successful. 

But Augustus was more sensitive to the Senate, and it’s tradition. He lived simply and worked hard. Octavian declared himself the Pontifex Maximus (the highest priest) and tried to legislate morality. He reformed the government, restored temples, donated to the arts, and undertook massive public building projects. For all these reasons, he proudly said, “I found Rome a city of brick and left it a city of marble.”

Unfortunately, Augustus and his wife Livia also produced an imperial family that was nothing but trouble.

What famous relatives did Augustus have?

Tiberius 14-37 CE: Livia’s son by her first husband. Became paranoid as he got older. He left governing his henchman and went off to the island of Capri. He enjoyed a life full of sex, drugs, and rock n roll. Tiberius was probably murdered.

Caligula 37-41, Great-grandson to Livia. Handsome but stupid. He convinced himself that he was the god, Jupiter. He killed his sister and had an affair with her (not in this order, though). He appointed his favorite horse, a priest, and a consul. Caligula was assassinated by his own guards.

Claudius 41-54. Grandson to Livia. He conquered Britain, and he also put down an attempted coup by his wife. To cheer himself up, Claudius married his niece, Agrippina. She poisoned him.

Nero 54-68. Son of Claudius’s wife and niece Agrippina, by her first husband. He killed his mother, he killed Claudius’s son (a rival heir), murdered his wife Octavia, and kicked to death his second wife Poppea (she was pregnant). Nero fancied himself as a poet, actor, dancer, and charioteer. Romans found his exhibitionism very undignified. Finally, the army staged a coup to get rid of him. He killed himself pronouncing his last words, “What an artist dies in me.”

Ironically, Nero almost certainly didn’t carry out the most famous crime he’s usually remembered for: the Great Fire of Rome of 64 CE.

Evidence shows he took a hand in fighting the flames. We do know, is that Nero took full advantage of the Great Fire. 

Nero blamed the Christians for it and had hundreds of them put to death; he also built a massive palace for himself, the Golden House, on the ruins.

After Nero’s death, there was a confusing power struggle, with three emperors in one year.

The man who came out on top was a victorious general who had made his name fighting in Judaea: Vespasian. 

Vespasian restored law and order. He also built a vast amphitheater on the site of Nero’s Golden House: the Colosseum!

Vespasian was famous for his irony and dying in his bed, he commented on the Roman habit of declaring the emperors divine: “I think I’m becoming a god.”

However, after Rome became a Republic, by the 2nd century BCE, it was already a city that controlled the western Mediterranean. The troops had more loyalty to the generals than to distant politicians. That’s how men like Pompey or Caesar became so powerful.

Peasants, followed by slaves and freedmen from conquered lands, started to arrive in the city, increasing the population to half a million. 

You can imagine the Rome of the Kings with a population of 30.000.

Now it was (for the standards of the time) one of the biggest, and with plenty of work for the newcomers: construction of roads, aqueducts, temples, and market.

All these works were financed by taxes on Rome’s expanding trade. 

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